Van Jones Sets the Record Straight

On the eve of accepting top honors at the NAACP Image Awards, the former “green jobs czar” defends his record and talks comeback.

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Tonight’s NAACP Image Awards telecast isn’t just about recognizing black Hollywood. The group is giving its President’s Award to Van Jones, the erstwhile national “green jobs czar” who was forced out of the Obama administration last year after he became a lightning rod for right-wing ire.

Jones, 41, may be “the most misunderstood man in America,” said NAACP president Benjamin Jealous in an op-ed released to media outlets earlier this week. In it, Jealous cited Jones’ instrumental role in passing the 2007 Green Jobs Act, and his help initiating the Oakland Green Jobs Corp. targeting low-income Californians.

“The real Van Jones story is about how a young leader became the father of the green jobs movement …. Far from the divisive caricature painted by some cable news outlets, Van has been one of America's most effective and inspiring bridge-builders.” Jealous also said.

For Jones, getting the award is the latest step that he has taken to kick off the next phase of his career. “I am looking forward to reintroducing myself to the American people and that’s exciting to have that opportunity,” he told The Root in an exclusive interview. Another step will be leading the Green Opportunity Initiative for the Center for American Progress. He’ll also be a distinguished visiting fellow at Princeton University's Center for African American Studies at its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The world will find that although Van Jones is looking for a second chance at public service, he’ll vehemently defend his record to date against all comers. Here’s what he told The Root on the eve of accepting the NAACP President’s Award:

The Root: How do you feel about the honor?

Van Jones: It’s a big deal for me. It’s a lot to live up to, given that Muhammad Ali and Bill Clinton got this award, so I see it as a challenge to live up to.

TR: When Ben Jealous says you “may be the most misunderstood man in America,” what comes to mind?

VJ: Well, anytime you apply a superlative to yourself, you’re probably off the mark … I am looking forward to reintroducing myself to the American people and that’s exciting to have that opportunity. The whole country is built on second chances and comebacks, and all that, so I’m proud to have a chance to do that going forward.